Small-Scale Water Systems take on Drought, Urban Decay, and Climate Change

By 2025 two-thirds of the global population will live in conditions of at least moderate water stress.  According to an interesting piece by Howard LaFranchi in last weekend's CS Monitor, community-scale systems -- not mega-projects -- may provide solutions for a thirsty world.

I've written about the value of decentralized neighbourhood or community scale infrastructure before.  When it comes to renewable energy, talking about the efficiencies that result from generating energy closer to where it's used is becoming old hat.

There's interest both in North America and Europe – where nearly 10% of electricity vanishes as line-loss as it travel from plant to plug – and in Africa and Asia, where local renewable energy systems transform lives by bringing affordable reliable power without the costs of energy mega-projects.  Many of the same arguments apply when it comes to water.

Access to water availability is being progressively limited by climate change, pollution, and the increasing number of people living in urban and peri-urban areas with little or no functional water infrastructure. Simultaneously neither national governments nor foreign aid have enough money to fund large dams and other mega-projects that characterized the twentieth century's approach  to water. So what to do? 

The article focuses on Arlington, VA based International Relief and Development (IRD), which is running community-scale water projects in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe. If you take a look at IRD's website, you'll see that we are talking very simply technology here: gutters, pipes, and tanks to harvest and store rainwater from rooftops, and a solar water purification system that uses little more than bottles and a hot zinc roof.  But the impact is significant. 

In Zimbabwe it means that during the rainy season, when cross-contamination between sewage and freshwater in Harare's decaying reticulation system is at its worst, families have access to clean safe drinking water. Stored properly, the city's densely packed roofs can harvest enough rain to provide year-round drinking water. As with the renewable energy in similar settings, the benefits particularly affect women who otherwise spend large amounts of time obtaining and transporting water and fuel.

The success of these projects seems to have a lot to do with the types of partnerships that IRD has created to roll them out. As IRD head Arthur Keys explains, “The project has large part because the materials for the systems – the gutters and pipes and collection tanks – were integrated from the outset by having local small entrepreneurs develop and supply the parts.” So along with water comes jobs and income.

What the Monitor article doesn't mention is that these approaches aren't confined to developing countries. As any reader from the Southern US, California or Oregon will know, increasingly American states and cities are either requiring or encouraging home owners to capture and use rainwater for non-potable use.

Rainwater harvesting became mandatory on all new commercial or residential buildings in Queensland (Australia) in 2007,  in 2007 and the number of households with rainwater systems doubled every year between 2005 to 2008.

With water shortages set to become one of the defining problems of this century, in countries both north and south, community or household scale water systems are going to become more and more common. 

[image: blue granola]


1 Response to "Small-Scale Water Systems take on Drought, Urban Decay, and Climate Change"

Blogger said... 25 January 2017 at 17:04

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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